Sao Joao Boat Festival in Siolim



It is the feast of St John the Baptist on June 24th. On this day young men around Goa jump into wells to retrieve gifts thrown in by villagers. This celebration is called Sao Joao, one of the more famous Christian feasts in the state. The festivals takes place at the beginning of Monsoon season in Goa and people of all ages jumping into wells, streams and ponds. They get well tanked with feni and do this. In Siolim, the village in north Goa’s Bardez taluka, colourful boat races are organised on this day.

This monsoon feast has special significance in Christianity as it is dedicated to St John the Baptist, the firebrand prophet. Christian scripture tells us of John the Baptist leaping for joy in his mother, Elizabeth’s womb when she was told of Jesus’ birth. John, the Baptist later went on to baptise Jesus in the river Jordan. The well is considered to be a representation of Elizabeth’s womb and a jump into it a sign of joy for the birth of Christ.

San Joao, like any other Goan feast has that captivating spirit of merriment, colour and tradition. People dressed in colourful outfits from several villages meet near a stream front in carnival-coloured boats and floats. It is akin to the Carnival in few ways. But San Joao is not celebrated with the same fervour throughout Goa. It is celebrated with less enthusiasm in South Goa. The display of Sangodd, a decorated floating platform, made by tying two boats or banana tree trunks together, which are then put into nearby streams to float is a important part of the celebrations.

But in North Goa this festival is celebrated with great vibrance. It is celebrated with great fervour and gusto, particularly in Siolim, Anjuna, Candolim, Calangute and Assagao. Getting to any of the main locations for the display of floats is a task for anyone not on foot, with the small roads getting a decades share of their traffic.

On the feast day, villagers begin the day by taking a plunge in the village wells singing ‘San Joao’. The highlight of the day is the Sangodd, on which people parade singing Mandos and religious hymns. The Sangodds are uniquely decorated and members of that Sangodd wear a uniform dress to distinguish themselves from other groups. This is also a time to celebrate one’s spirit of adventure. So, on this day there are a number of competitions where youths get to exhibit their talents.

The celebration of San Joao in Bardez (North Goa) goes back nearly 150 years, when San Joao revelers from Chapora and Zhor villages of Anjuna, Badem in Assagao and Siolim would come up year after year in boats to the chapel of Sao Joao in Periera Vaddo, Siolim, to pay homage and take part in the traditional dali. People, especially the newly married or those with a new-born (where new means before after June 24 of the previous year, that is the previous Sao Joao) gather with the dali and gifts containing seasonal fruits like moussrad mango (a Goan variety of mango), pineapples, jackfruits and a bottle of feni. The young and old alike sing and dance to the beat of the ghumot and kansallem, with lovely coronets of seasonal flowers on their heads and ‘drenched to the bone’ with feni. Many then proceed to jump time and time again into the streams, wells and ponds to keep away the cold from getting them.

Sao Joao still retains it’s traditional flavour and this organisers say is as a result of their decline to commercialize the event. So if you are looking for fun, frolic and a wet-carnival like atmosphere then San Joao is definitely the best place to be on the 24th June.

Photos by Lynn Barreto Miranda /

Clicked on 24th June 2010/11.


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